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How to Potty Train an Older Child

How to Potty Train an Older Child

It’s perfectly natural for children to potty train at age 3 or older. While skipping pull-ups and transitioning to “big kid” underwear may be great tips for any age, potty training is certainly different at 22 months and 4 years! If you're working on potty training a pre-K kid, consider these tips from Circle of Moms members on strategies that worked for their older children.

1. Stick to a Routine

Routine can be a critical component for potty training an older child. Since children may not notice the urge (or notice but not want to stop playing), having an adult offering casual reminders every 1-2 hours helps the child view interrupting activities to use the toilet as a more normal part of the daily routine. As Sara R. shares: “Consistency in asking them to go potty is a huge thing. Even at home sometimes we get so busy with things that we forget and then we have an accident.”

2. Offer Rewards

We’re guessing you’ve already discovered this, but four and five year-olds are very bribable! As Kristin D. shares: “Instead of punishing him when he doesn't do it, reward him when he does…Every kid has a different trigger though, so figure out what he really likes (that isn't too expensive) and use that."


You may need to experiment with different rewards to see what's most exciting for your child. Stickers, candy, or small toys for each successful bathroom trip or accident-free day may work. Meanwhile Jodi H. found a bigger prize motivated her older son to stay accident-free for a longer stint: “I told my son that when he is potty trained, (which) I defined as no accidents for a month, he could get a big boy bed. He picked out a Lightning McQueen bed, sheets and a comforter. It was quite a motivator."

3. Relinquish Control

Older children crave control, so many Circle of Moms members strongly recommend making your child feel in charge of her bathroom habits.

Laura C. explains: “We did the treat thing, the sticker thing, the toy thing, the negative consequence thing, the ignore it thing - EVERYTHING!  It was awful!  What we finally figured out was that we were putting too much pressure on her.  We had to let her know that this was her choice and we weren't going to bother her about it anymore…She was really anxious about HAVING to get to the potty.  When we told her she didn't have to anymore, the anxiousness dissipated and she did it on her own.”

Jaci W., whose daughters potty trained at ages 3½ and 4, agrees: “I found that if I pushed my girls too much that they would do the opposite of what I wanted them to do. I just let them wear training pants around and when they were ready to go they went. We just gently encouraged them to go."

4. Establish Rules for Dealing with Accidents

Giving your child control over using the toilet isn’t the same as giving free reign to play on mommy’s couch in wet underwear. It's fine to set guidelines for what should happen in the event of an accident. For example, an older child can get changed into dry clothes on her own after an accident and let you know she's put dirty clothes in the laundry room. (Remember to thank her for doing so!) This helps reinforce the message that she's a big girl and able to handle her bathroom responsibilities independently.

5. Encourage Copycat Behavior

Since kids love copying other children (especially older ones!), putting your child be in the company of other potty-trained children can encourage their curiosity and motivation.

Heather L., a mother of seven children, advises: “A lot of kids want to do what the other kid is doing, so if your child follows the other one into the bathroom and sees them doing it, most likely, your kid will want to try it too. Four of my kids potty trained themselves by following their sibling, cousin or friend into the bathroom.”

Note: Instead of vocally bragging about the other child’s bathroom habits, try to let your child’s curiosity be naturally piqued.

6. Keep a Positive Attitude

In keeping with the last point, try to avoid shaming your older child into using the toilet. Instead, as mother of two Michelle R. advises, offer praise for successes and treat accidents nonchalantly: "I suggest praising them to the hilt when they do use the toilet and just cleaning up the accidents."

Join The Conversation
ChristyDouma ChristyDouma 5 years
Hmmm ... nice tips, but my 6-year-old son still won't poop in the toilet consistently. He goes more in his pants than in the toilet. He was completely potty trained almost 3 years ago and then completely reverted. He decided last fall to go in the toilet so he could start kindergarten. So he pooped in the toilet for about 10 days, but as soon as school started he started pooping his pants again - but only at home! So he spent the school year doing fine at school and pooping his pants at home.
PatriciaPerezJenkins PatriciaPerezJenkins 5 years
The best advice I got was from my pediatrician. She told us to let it go completely. Don't mention it, give her the option if she wants, make the potty available and relinquish control. My little girl had turned 3 and showed no signs of it. Once we did that she decided she wanted to all on her own. She is going now and thinks it great fun and gets very excited about it. We haven't made a full transition and there are still accidents but the doctor was right. Let her decide.
JessicaChillcott JessicaChillcott 6 years
i'm having a hard time getting my four year old to want to use the potty. And I have a third baby on the way so I really want to get it down before january. But I also don't want to push him to do it either. Hopefully soon he will want to.
MindiKenney MindiKenney 6 years
I have a 3.5 year old daughter. She is physically ready to be potty trained, but she says she is scared. She doesn't like the way it feels when it (urine) comes out of her body. So even in the morning after not going for over 13 hours, she will sit on the potty and stop herself from going. Then when she gets her diaper back on, she immediately goes in it. I've tried pull ups and even just panties but she doesn't seem to mind if she gets wet. We have tried all of the rewards and nothing works. She is upset when she doesn't use the potty but she is the one stopping herself from going! I don't know how to get past this fear with her. Any ideas?
JanetOlcorn JanetOlcorn 6 years
thanks every1 for their comments - my son is 3 and 3 months and toilet training him has been hard for us parents, we are using toilet prompts and a reward chart and it seems to be working
Katie28870 Katie28870 6 years
my son, did not potty train until just now. and he is three and a half. it took a lot of consistency, bringing underwear and clothes with us, and treats, but most of all...just waiting till he was really ready. not all kids are ready at 2. we only use pull ups at night now and im weaning him off those by making him go through nap time without having an accident.
AnneEvon AnneEvon 6 years
thanks for the tips.. i have a daughter who will be 3.5 at the end of the month and going into preschool in the fall.. she is not yet potty trained and this is a constant source of worry for me.. nice to know i'm not alone
MeganHughes20266 MeganHughes20266 6 years
My son turned 3 in April. We started PT shortly after Thanksgiving-I just told him we weren't going to use diapers anymore and we "threw them away". We have had a quite a few fights and accidents along the way, especially once little sis was born. But I have found that he will pee on his own but the poop he is more likely to ignore the urge. He will hold it for pretty long if he wants/needs to. The only thing I do is remind and enforce when he acts like he needs to. Oh and we let him read on the potty!
MelissaMcReynolds49511 MelissaMcReynolds49511 6 years
From all the comments & from my own experience, it's clear that this is a normal thing. My oldest son was almost 5 when one day he started using the toilet and never went back. I also tried everything with him & nothing worked. I just had to let it go & give him the choice. Now with my youngest son, I'm realizing I'll have to do the same. He'll be four in Sep. All I can say is this: Be consistent & be encouraging then eventually your child will make the decision on their own.
valeriehall valeriehall 6 years
My youngest son is 3.5 years old. He was completely potty training resistant. We tried everything, too...then my mom suggested that I call his pediatrician. I didn't want to because I was embarrassed! Who calls the doctor when their kid refuses to use the potty? Well, she suggested that I ignore him, and let him have total control over the potty. So I did, and while he was agonizing on the floor, crying because he had to go so bad but he knew he couldn't have his diaper, I was agonizing too. I felt so bad but I continued cleaning the kitchen pretending not to notice. I made sure the potty was right there for him and I suggested to him that maybe he'd like to use it, and after about an hour, he went! It took a little while for him to poop in the potty, about three days later (he was holding it), we've had accidents and trouble aiming, but fast forward 2 months, no accidents, no bed wetting...and all I had to do was ignore him. Go fig.
NalayaOddly NalayaOddly 6 years
We've set a timer for every 45 minutes and now when it goes off Little man knows that he needs to stop what he's doing and use the bathroom. Some times he says he doesn't have to go and we set the timer for another 45 minutes.
lyzbryant lyzbryant 6 years
all of this is great...but what happens when you have tried all of it and nothing is working? my son is 3 1/2. my 6 year old was potty trained by now and my 3 y/o is refusing anything to do with a toilet. he wants the underwear but nothing to do with a toilet. ugh...sooo frustrating!
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